Carmakers, Insurers Want Garlock Asbestos Records Unsealed

September 29, 2014 – Media Coverage

Law360, New York (September 29, 2014, 3:53 PM EDT) -- Ford Motor Co., Honeywell International, Volkswagen Group of America Inc. and a slew of insurers urged a North Carolina bankruptcy judge Thursday to reject a bid to seal aggregated estimations of past and pending mesothelioma claims against Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC, saying the information should be released to the public.

The group, known as the Public Access Proponents, slammed a motion to seal records filed by the Official Committee of Asbestos Personal Injury Claimants in the Garlock case. The bankrupt company had sought to partially unseal records relating to individual asbestos claims and various settlements so that Garlock could use the records at trial, but the claimants argued the records contained personal information.

However, the proponents told the court that they, along with the claimants and Garlock, already agreed to redact social security numbers, financial account information, birth dates and medical histories in the records, and that information like names have already been disclosed at various points of the case.

But keeping the names, questionnaires, claims submissions and settlement amounts sealed violates the proponents’ right to access the information and also violates the First Amendment as well as Fourth Circuit precedent regarding the right to access judicial documents, the group argues.

“The Fourth Circuit made clear in Appelbaum that ‘judicial documents’ subject to the public’s common law right of access include documents that are filed in a case and are ‘relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process,’” the motion said.

Representatives for the parties didn’t respond to Monday requests for comment.

On Sept. 11, the committee argued to the judge that details of individual asbestos claims and resolutions involving many different solvent and bankrupt defendants, compiled to help determine the overall value of tort and wrongful death claims for mesothelioma, included large amounts of personally identifying information that aren’t directly relevant to the claims and should not be released.

The committee claimed the court should take into account what information was actually used in the estimation proceeding, in light of the aggregate nature of the estimation, as distinguished from less relevant materials swept up in the parties’ “broad fact-gathering” that contain personally identifying information.

The automotive and insurance companies asked the court Aug. 18 to let them inspect the sealed records, citing statements made by the previous judge in Garlock’s bankruptcy case calling into question the truthfulness of mesothelioma claimants’ representations to active defendants about their asbestos exposure.

Attorneys from Belluck & Fox LLP on Sept. 5 fired back at the request, telling a North Carolina federal judge that the bankruptcy court should rule on the issue first.

Garlock originally filed suit in January against Belluck & Fox LLP, Waters & Kraus LLP, Stanley-Iola LLP, Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett PC and Shein Law Center Ltd., alleging the law firms hid evidence of their clients' exposure to asbestos from other manufacturers' products in order to reap more money from the company.

Ford is represented by McGuireWoods LLP and Smith Anderson Blount Dorsett Mitchell & Jernigan LLP; Honeywell is represented by Davis & Hamrick LLP and Squire Patton Boggs LLP; Volkswagen is represented by Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP and Hawkins Parnell & Young; Mt. McKinley Insurance Co. and Everest Reinsurance Co. are represented by Gorham & Crone LLP and Walker Wilcox Matousek LLP; and the remaining insurers are represented by Hardin Kundla McKeon & Poletto PA and Allman Spry Leggett & Crumpler PA.

The Official Committee of Asbestos Personal Injury Claimants is represented by Trevor W. Swett III, James P. Wehner and Elihu Inselbuch of Caplin & Drysdale, and Travis W. Moon of Moon Wright & Houston PLLC.

Garlock is represented by Garland S. Cassada, Jonathan C. Krisko and Richard C. Worf, Jr., ofRobinson Bradshaw & Hinson PA.

The case is In re: Garlock Sealing Technologies LLC, case number 3:10-bk-31607, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of North Carolina.